So Bobby Pettiford’s first goal of the game, his second goal in the Bahamas and his 10th field goal so far in 2022-23 were pretty big.
There’s no denying that such a shot could be huge for a young player like Pettiford and his confidence, but there’s so much more that happened in this game-changing game and it’s worth unpacking it all here.
You can’t design a game like that, so 99.9% of what happened during the wild sequence that won Thursday’s game for third-place Kansas revolved around instinct, effort and natural reaction.
KU coach Bill Self said so after the game, adding that he will win although the Jayhawks probably weren’t the better team on Thursday because it shows his team has guys who aren’t that good even on theirs – hot days, can make winning games to save a game.
Here’s a quick recap of the play. I know you’ve probably seen it a dozen times. But be prepared to watch a dozen or more as we take a look at some of the obvious and not-so-obvious elements of what led to it, and the aftermath.
• First, let’s examine Pettiford’s efforts. It’s not enough just to talk about his athletics to catch the ball and shoot an extremely hard shot, all in one motion with the game on the line. We also have to consider the mental side of this game. For most of his KU career – if not his life – Pettiford has had it in his head to go back on defense if a shot lands. With time running out and the game at stake, he obviously didn’t need to worry about defense at that moment. But still thinking through it so quickly in real time and sprinting from way above the 3-point line to get to the edge to make the game is a big deal.
• Now let’s look at Wilson in this piece. Wilson, who had already thwarted his chance for a game-winning drive earlier in the game, didn’t give up. As soon as Zach Clemence’s shot goes up, he immediately goes to the glass and gets enough of the rebound to sway it and push it to Pettiford. Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl had the position and the ball came right to him. All you have to do to understand how close he came to ending it is watch his reaction when he sees what happens. They don’t routinely get more than 10 rebounds per game like Wilson does without having a nose for the ball and putting in a lot of effort. Wilson didn’t hit the Game Winner, but he had a big hand in who did.
• Watch Wilson again after he passed the ball to Clemence. That was the part of this piece that I absolutely loved. After passing the difficulties, you can see Wilson looking at the clock on the other end of the floor. From there, he points up and presumably tells Clemence to shoot her. Obviously everyone in this situation would love to see the shot go in, but I think Wilson’s exhilarating play here was just as much hoping Clemence got the shot in time to give KU a rebound chance than anything else. It worked. And it was pure genius from an experienced player who has seen many great moments.
• OK. Now back to Clemence. It’s been a weird year for Clemence so far. He missed a few games through injury, played little before that and was one of the first players off the bench on Thursday. Not that it carried too much on the stat sheet, but its impact was huge. Clemence, put in play at the end of the rule to give Kansas another 3-point shot option with the Jayhawks down by three with the last 30 seconds, came out of the corner and fired without hesitation. He missed the shot that would have tied him but rushed after the miss and fired the rebound at an open Kevin McCullar Jr. who drilled a 3-pointer to tie it. From there, Clemence started overtime and seemed ready for the moment, but he still couldn’t find his sweater. He finished the day 0-to-6 from the ground — 0-to-5 from 3-point range — and did one of those fake shots and put it on the drive to the rim that just didn’t look like it. back in his game. At least not at this level. It caused a turnover. After all that, to Clemence’s credit, she’s not scared of the big moment. It’s hard to tell how happy the Kansas coaches were with his decision to shoot that deep 3 late in overtime. But at least it gave KU a chance. How many times have you seen teams not even get a shot in this situation? Clemence played 13 minutes and got a real chance. And like it or not, his late decisions helped propel KU to victory. He has yet to settle down and find a role that suits him, but there’s still time for that.
• Finally, take a look at the KU bench after Pettiford’s bucket. The Jayhawks could have dodged a bullet here, and there’s no doubt the coaching staff will point that out during the film briefing should that type of moment recur later. It would be difficult to whistle but there is no doubt some players left the bench area and flocked onto the pitch in celebration and could have been called up for the infraction. Ernest Udeh Jr. and MJ Rice seem to be the biggest culprits. Of course, it’s hard to blame them. The moment was electric and you don’t see those kinds of game winners every day. Kansas coach Bill Self called Pettiford’s shot “probably the best finish of the college basketball season and one of the best finishes he’s ever seen.” That sure would have been a hard way to wipe it out. And given that the two boys who ventured furthest onto the pitch were both true rookies, you can bet this will be used as a teaching moment to remind the entire squad how to handle situations like this deals with himself.